Everyone has a thing — something that holds a special, unadulterated space in your heart — a thing that could almost be credited with making you the person you are today. Or something you go back to over and over because it knows you better than anyone. It almost is you. Naturally you’ll want to share your things with your very best best friends and girlfriends at some point, because they’ll need to understand how you got here and what the world looks like behind your eyeballs.
It might take you awhile to be sure, but one day you’ll just know that it’s time to lend her your copy of Birds of America and hold your breath while you wait to see if she likes it. One day you’ll tire of reciting entire scenes from Six Feet Under to her and suggest she just go watch it herself so you can exist in the same world. One day it’ll be time to watch Best In Show together, and you won’t even try to stop yourself from reciting the entire script. One day you’ll just lay all your cards down: either she gets BTVS and Ani and The Blue Album, or she doesn’t, and it’s time to find out.
So you’ll share your thing — the cinematic, literary or musical embodiment of you you you — and when she calls to say she had to read “Terrific Mother” three times and she still can’t eat, or she genuinely falls apart laughing at Cookie and Gerry Fleck, or she needs to process her conflicting feelings about how they really should’ve just ended the series with the Season 5 finale but then there wouldn’t have been “Once More With Feeling” and “Tabula Rasa” so it’s a tough call, you’ll let out a sigh of relieved satisfaction — she gets it. She gets you. It’s gonna be so much easier to sing about evil bunnies now.
We asked the Team to tell us about their things — the stuff they feel compelled to share with only the best of people — so we’d know exactly what we’d need to appreciate or learn to appreciate in order to really get them. It’s a broad topic, so we stuck to film, television, books and music.
Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara. Yep, I’m a lesbian and I love Tegan and Sara completely without irony and only a little bit of self-consciousness. I have Tegan and Sara lyric tattoos on the backs of my arms, and I’m not sorry. Yep, I loved them in high school, yep they helped me come out, yep, I met my first group of queer friends on their message boards my senior year. Before I allow you to really “get” me, I need you to understand that Tegan and Sara, in combination with the Internet, changed my life, taught me how to be gay, and will still be blasting out my iTunes directly after you break my heart.
Almost Famous. It’s now coming to my attention that all of the things that I need you to know before you know me are sort of terrible hipster cliches, which makes me wonder if I’m just a horrible hipster cliche, which I realize is okay because people have loved me in the past, and maybe you can love me in the future! Maybe we can consume a substance and watch Almost Famous together while cuddling. I would really like that. I seriously cannot get through a viewing of this movie without singing, crying, without my heart soaring, and especially not without explaining to you in emphatic detail that this — THIS – is why I want to be a journalist. I don’t want to be famous, I just want to be near fame, to touch it and maybe taste it and then record a conversation with it for Rolling Stone or maybe Autostraddle.com. We’ll talk about living the dream, falling in love with Penny Lane, we’ll realize halfway through that, yes, that is Zooey Deschanel playing William’s older sister, and I’ll cry again when she leaves him because I’ll think about leaving my little brother that one time a long time ago. Almost Famous came out in 2000, and it was my favorite thing about the world not ending, because since then, I’ve been able to watch it at least once a year for the past 12 years. It’s warm, fuzzy, a little scary, and a little too close. It makes you feel high, and it won’t let you forget this about your life: “It’s happening, it’s all happening.”
Jack, Bret & Billy
On The Road by Jack Kerouac. This is my favorite novel, I always gift it to the people who are important to me. Mostly because sometimes I’ll imagine that one day we’ll be like Sal and Dean, that we’ll write each other letters and go off on adventures and burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. And if I tell you this and you ask me “who’re Sal and Dean?” then that sort of kills the dream.
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. Less Than Zero is a novel about a bunch of unlikeable college kids living in Los Angeles during the 80’s. It was important to me as a teenager because I could sort of relate to their emptiness and their imperfect lives. It’s a very special feeling whenever someone reads it in an effort to understand my connection with it.
Green Day. Green Day were my very first love and to this day their music provides me with a heightened sense of calm that cannot be achieved through any other means. I don’t need the special people in my life to enjoy Green Day’s music, but I do need them to tolerate me listening to it in the car and to at least pretend to have a good time when I drag them to a concert or musical.
Springsteen & Grammar
Thing 1: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, is not the first book I ever loved, but it is the book that I have loved the hardest and longest. I used to make obscure references to it constantly in every day conversation, but now I settle for re-reading it at least once a year. But also: the mix of weirdness, dry cynicism, humour, and references to the apocalypse really fit my personality.
I cannot love you if you do not know how to use commas, so you should have a firm understanding and love for Eats Shoots & Leaves. It would be nice to be able to talk about our respective feelings w/r/t serial commas and semi-colons, otherwise our love/friendship will not be real.
Thing 3: Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is the first band I ever loved, and even though I really hated Magic, The Promise made everything better. Sometimes I really wish I had a way of reconciling my love for Bruce Springsteen with my love for not glorifying white dudes or America, but then I listen to “Thunder Road” or something and it all melts away. Also I have known the words to most of his collected works since age nine.
Thing 4: Janelle Monae
I just really like everything about Janelle Monae.
Things to See and Hear
The first thing is Stephen Dunn. Always Stephen Dunn. He’s like my bible so knowing at least some of Stephen Dunn is essential to knowing me.
What’s funny is that when it comes to most of my absolute favoritest writers — Mary Gaitskill, Eileen Myles and Lorrie Moore — I don’t expect my activity partner to read or enjoy them. My personal relationship with those writers is so intimate and private that it barely ever comes up, really, and I suppose I’d be scared to find out that my activity partner didn’t “get” Lorrie Moore and then I’d feel really sad. However, most of my best friends love Lorrie Moore, so.
To be honest, I kinda need you to see The L Word, ’cause I reference it so frequently and it’s such a giant part of my career, really, at this point. Since we’re talking about television let’s talk about Six Feet Under and My So-Called Life, too. I quote them both constantly and the characters were so vivid, I’m often seeking a way to describe the real world by comparing it to their worlds.
I never thought I’d ever date anyone who loved Ani DiFranco, but now I am, and jesus christ it makes talking so much easier, when we know all the same lines. But I’ve yet to date anybody seriously who liked Tegan & Sara or The Indigo Girls, so I’ve just given up on that.
There are some movies I’d like you to see — Closer, for example, because I changed watching that movie, and when I walked out of it I wasn’t the same person anymore — “Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off – but it’s better if you do.”
I have this theory that I developed a few weeks ago that whether or not somebody reads some Gawker Media site every day is a really good predictor of whether or not we’re on the same page in general. It’s like reading the same newspaper, maybe.
Starship Troopers and Tremors 1-4. I’ll want to lie on the couch with an assortment of blankets and a glass of chocolate milk and watch these corny / awesome sci-fi movies that I’ve seen a million times. Besides, the original Tremors stars Kevin Bacon, Reba McEntire and the dad from Family Ties. Has there ever been a better casting decision?
Futurama. Just the television series is a requirement, but you get added bonus points for having the movies as well. I used this show to teach my nephew about robots and cyclops, so it’s special. Important Note: I skip the one where Fry’s dog waits for him cause I just can’t deal. Also, at some point I’m going to call you my “smizmar.” It’d be useful if you know what that means.
Things That Make You Go Hmmm
I read this when I was twenty and I don’t know that there’s been a single day since that I haven’t thought about it in one way or another. I also don’t think there’s a single person in my life who’s read it at my behest, no matter how much I beg. I actually don’t have my copy anymore, because my ex never gave it back and, I am fairly certain, also still hasn’t fucking read it. Which means this would also make a great Valentine’s gift for me! If I ever date anyone who has read both the Alex Haley book and the more recent Manning Marable one, it will be a sign that we will end up having a commitment ceremony in a field of flowers barefoot and wearing white flowing matching outfits.
This movie is a secret gem that no one else has ever heard of, and I love it in ways I cannot explain. Written by Don DeLillo (I know, right?) it follows the story of one playwright the day of the infamous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I mean, I have a Bill Buckner card stuck to my fridge. What more do you want from me. Just watch the movie so you’ll know what I mean when I mutter “this could be it” under my breath at the end of a long day, okay?
At some point in the course of our hypothetical relationship, I’m going to chant to you “Hey [name,] introduce yourself!” And if you don’t know what to respond with, I can’t make any promises about our future together. At some point I’m probably also going to have a blubbering breakdown over the fact that I will never be as fierce as Solange Knowles, so if you’ve seen this, you’ll have at least one point of reference.
Apparently produced solely for educational purposes and therefore very difficult to find a copy of for personal consumption, this documentary tribute to James Baldwin is fucking amazing, and even if we never date you’re doing yourself a disservice not watching it. I’m a little embarrassed by the lengths I went to to find a DVD copy, but then also not embarrassed at all. You will never really know me until you watch me get a little teary watching James Baldwin say “Baby, they’re going to burn your house down.”
Kaki King and Mothlight
You won’t get me until you get Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight. I’m an experimental and avant garde film buff, so I love watching minutes and minutes of odd shapes and colors being projected onto a screen ad nauseum (sometimes literally). I got started thinking about non-commercial film through Mothlight, so that piece holds some importance for me and I’ve been known to talk about it into early morning hours.
Mothlight by Brakhage:
Another thing is Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World, a queer and Lambda-award-winning young adult book. I first read it when I was about 15 years old — I was incredibly closeted and incredibly uncomfortable with myself and my sexuality, and reading it was like taking in oxygen after years and years of holding my breath. It was my staple nightstand book throughout high school and through the beginning of college. I ended up emailing the author when I first read the book, and the email consisted mostly of “OH MY GOD I THINK I AM GAY WHAT DO I DO” and Ryan’s kind and immediate email back consisted mostly of “It’s okay to be gay! Just take things one step at a time.” Seven years later I emailed her again to thank her for writing the email to me and to tell her how important her book was to me as a queer, closeted woman of color living in a largely conservative town, and how much of an impact the book made on my life. Never underestimate the power of YA books.
My first musical crush was guitar-virtuoso-slash-queer-hottie Kaki King, and one of the first mix CDs I made for my girlfriend (and now fiancée, so something worked) was a mix consisting of Kaki King songs all over her oeuvre at the time, which included the albums Everybody Loves You, Legs to Make Us Longer and … Until We Felt Red. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for King, and I maintain her as my I’m-joking-but-I’m-really-not-joking celebrity exception.
Kaki King covering Morrissey’s “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”:
Harry Potter & The Science of Sleep
First of all, I can not date anyone who doesn’t love Harry Potter. It would be like trying to date a Republican or someone who hates my family. Harry Potter means something to me because I grew up anticipating, reading, and imagining the books. He’s non-negotiable. Then there’s The Science of Sleep, which my friends and I rented on a whim one night and which I’ve watched a hundred times since. It’s got everything a good movie requires: love, arts and crafts, magical realism, confusion, and jokes about penises and mistranslations. It’s really very perfect.
In the world of music, there’s Iron and Wine, whose music sounds like home, or at least the home I want to have someday. I could listen to “The Trapeze Swinger” over and over, but I don’t so that it’s ready whenever I need it. I love Patrick Wolf for being whatever he wants to be and Ingrid Michaelson for having a beautiful voice and both of them for playing the ukulele.
A lot of my favorite things to read come from Riese, like Stephen Dunn and Rainer Maria Rilke. And Lynda Barry, whose workbook I found sitting under her coffee table one night. Emily and I devoured it and drew our own version and then I went home and remembered that I knew how to write. It’s required perusing for anyone who I hope to spend a lot of time with.
I fell in love with Fiona Apple in high school and her music was pivotal to my coming out soundtrack and accompanying angst. I made two friends (boy and girl) in my early twenties who obsessed over her music as much as I did and it bonded us for life. I rarely see these friends anymore but whenever Fiona is in the news (new CD this Spring!), I know I can expect an email where we gush and trade YouTube links and momentarily reconnect over the musical genius of Ms. Maggart.
TV and Books Reminiscent of TV
I’m no stranger to watching an entire series over the course of a weekend, but there are two shows in particular that just begged to be watched front to back: Gossip Girl and The O.C. My roommate and I could probably watch Gossip Girl and endless number of times and I would never stop being shocked/tearful/excited every time. Also I sort of want to be Blair Waldorf and that could be difficult to understand if someone has no clue who that is. Similarly with The O.C., I think that my two friends from preschool and I have watched it on at least 50% of the times we are all in our hometown. The thing about both shows is that they’re totally superficial but I don’t care and I love them anyways. I think that’s important, to be able to relax and enjoy a show that’s dramatic, fun and a total feminist’s nightmare and just have that be okay for a little while.
Not all TV has to be hour long dramas to be awesome. There’s something about watching Sister Wives that’s so engrossing I can’t stop. I know it’s bad TV and I don’t have the same sort of passionate love for it that I do Gossip Girl, but I need it to be okay with someone to get fully invested in the lives of Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn and maybe also text about them in the middle of the day as though they are people we actually know.
Excerpt from an actual text message conversation with Rachel:
Me: Meri is totally the best sister wife
Rachel: I aspire to be her, really
Rachel: What season are you on?
Me: Mid-Second season
Rachel: I am hanging out with people but I sort of wish I was watching instead? Is that embarrassing?
See? Is that true friendship or what?
Alright, I should probably stop dancing around pretending there isn’t going to be a ton of TV here. In addition to those shows, there’s a whole host of other shows/movies I feel like someone would have to have seen in order to even just have a normal conversation with me. I sometimes can be a little quote-heavy. It’s not that these shows tap in to something deep and important in my inner psychy, it’s more that I can’t go a full day without telling someone “the choice is yours and yours alone.” In no particular order, it would mean seeing at least an episode each of Legends of the Hidden Temple, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Community along with at least the first season of How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Hannah Montana, True Blood and Big Bang Theory. It’s probably a good idea to catch Wedding Crashers, Super Troopers and all of the Will Ferrell movies too. I’m not saying someone has to be obsessed with these shows/movies, I’m just saying that might be the basic criteria for holding conversation. A basic working knowledge of X-Men and the Marvel Universe might be handy too. God, I need to get out more.
I swear there are times when I read though, and lately I’ve just really been needing everyone in my life to read George Saunders short stories. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, one of his books of short stories, has just the perfect balance of quirk, darkness and humor. I just think it perfectly taps in to what I think is interesting to think about while staying away from getting too serious. You should really go read it right now. Additionally, even if someone doesn’t think they’re in to graphic novels, I try to push Fables because it just has that perfect Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Charmed balance between fantasy and reality.
Poetry and Political Radicals
Apparently I’m a sucker for French women promoting radical politics in prime colors and dark eyeliner. I saw Godard’s La Chinoise for the first time on the big screen in NYC and basically sat mouth agape having what seemed like a lucid wet dream.
I really, really, really like the album He Poos Clouds (2006) by Final Fantasy (Owen Pallet). An experimental album featuring Pallet’s classically trained violin skills. Don’t know anything about D&D but I read it gets referenced a lot. Whatever the case, “Song, Song, Song” is my favorite track on the album. And then there was that time when Pallett covered Joanna Newsom’s “Peach, Plum, Pear” who I saw at Carnegie Hall last year where someone from the crowd shouted at her “What’s it like to be a goddess!”
I picked up Edward Gorey’s The Doubtful Guest years ago in a no longer existent bookshop in Cincinnati and felt like I’d stumbled into a world of wonderful. One of my friends in high school after reading the Gashlycrumb Tinies at my house took to quoting the morbid lines from the book as personal greeting. I find happiness in Edward Gorey. And turns out you can watch a video of someone reading “The Epiplectic Bicycle.”
Tegan and Sara and Harry
Before somebody can really truly “get” me they must appreciate Tegan and Sara at nearly the same level as I do. I mean, if you like Tegan and Sara then we are already friends. But I need to be able to say “I feel most like the cherry pie” and then you need to giggle nonstop with me for 5 minutes after that and then say “at first, it’s hard to get into…”
Also it would be great if you believed that I am Harry Potter. These books are basically my adolescence, so if you don’t like Harry Potter, then this will never work. And if you don’t like tea, then I see this as being a huge problem for our future relationship, as in what will we sit around and drink all day while having a Charmed marathon?
It’s in Your Ears
Music and movies is almost all of me. I always want a movie on, even if I’m not technically watching it. In fact, most of the time I don’t have to watch them at all. They’re like family and I’m just always glad they’re here. Almost Famous, The Big Chill, Goonies, Dazed and Confused, Peter Pan, Home for the Holidays, Reality Bites, Away We Go, Beautiful Girls and Mystic Pizza — there, now you know practically all there is to know about me.
We have to listen to music while we’re cooking. There’s a perfect record for every occasion, but the two that feel like I’ve put myself on the turntable is Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. I have a complicated relationship with Liz Phair, but not with her first three albums, so they’re like aural prozac. There’s this thing that happens in “Go On Ahead” and “Jealousy” that I hope I wouldn’t need to explain to anyone. I mean, I would if I had to, but it would be a lot cooler if I didn’t.
Finally, there’s Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery. There are images and stories in this book that I guess would make most people not want anything to do with babies, but it was the first book that I read when I was pregnant and I’ve kept a copy with me for the past 13 years. It’s not even just about the midwifery and the childbirth and aftercare that’s explained — I reread it when I need a reminder that I’m strong, that I can trust myself, and that most pains can be endured by remembering to breathe slowly.
Old School Things
I’ve already talked about how The Darjeeling Limited is an integral part of my life. I like to watch it on repeat and sometimes I like to watch it even though I’m happy because of the parts where they ride around India in the sun together. I like to watch this movie with people I’m close to I guess because I feel like it says something about me I’ve never said. Watch it with me. You have to.
I own Skies by Eileen Myles (among other books from the same Wonder of Lesbian Poets) and it’s one of the books I travel with always, keeping it close to me at all times. I’ve bookmarked pages with different disposable camera photographs and I reread it and mark it up as much as possible. I want you to like Eileen Myles, or at least think it’s cute that I love her too much.
If you’ve never read Notes to Myself: My Struggle To Become a Person, then you have never had a realization about life while riding the Bolt Bus and crying next to a stranger. The book is excerpts of author Hugh Prather’s journal. Need I say more?
Do not ever make fun of me ever for listing Death Cab for Cutie as my favorite band. Do not ever make fun of them when I listen to them loudly in cars, on buses, and in my room in my underwear. Do not mock me when I put their lyrics on the Internet. It’s not that I’m still a 16-year-old girl. It’s just my feelings. I love Death Cab for Cutie. I hope you do, too.
All the Things
1. The Beatles, obviously.
2. Animaniacs – This cartoon was so vital to my childhood and the development of my current sense of humor that I think if you don’t laugh while watching this we might not be able to be friends.
3. Opera, Wagnerian opera and Russian opera in particular
4. Skins (UK)
5. Kurt Vonnegut books
6. Annie Hall and “golden age” Woody Allen movies in general
7. Schubert lieder, especially Winterreise
Jay-Z and McD
The Black Album. When I was in high school, mp3 players were just starting to get big and there was the iPod/portable CD player divide (which is similar to the North Face/hoodie divide in college). Before every basketball game my sophomore year, I listened to the Black Album straight through. One day, the batteries on my CD player ran out midway through the album. I proceeded to throw a mini-concert in the back of the bus with my teammates while rapping the remainder of the songs from memory. It’s my hope that you would be able to join in should a catastrophe such as this strike again. It’s no secret that I think I’m Jay-Z so I hope you think you’re Beyonce.
Six Characters in Search of an Author. Not only is Luigi Pirandello hilarious, this play makes you think about the construction of characters and the art of performance in a way nothing else does. I want you to talk to me about how man is nobody and what it means when the illusion of reality is the very thing making the best case that reality is the illusion. Every now and then I like to think about the big picture just long enough to feel like I should go cry brain tears in a corner but stop just before I do. If you haven’t read it, I will assume there’s no way you could follow the spiraling thoughts this play brings on.
The McDonald’s breakfast dilemma. If you don’t have an existential crisis when you have to order from McDonald’s breakfast menu, you will never be able to help me understand my life’s purpose because right now I think it somehow involves Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuits or the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes and it’s up to you to help me decide my life’s true path starting with my breakfast order. It’s not about the choice, it’s about the process.